15 October 2009

Considering Basic Human Rights in Competition with Associational Rights: An Evening Conversation with Professor Moshe Halbertal

The other night I went down to the Upper West Side where the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) was holding its first ever Rabbinical Student Delegation (RSD) alumni gathering. After having a trip of rabbinical students go on winter trips to locations in the developing world for each of the past six years as well as this past summer (I went on the second such RSD trip), there is a growing cohort of alumni from this program.
For the evening in question, about two dozen RSD alumni had gathered to have
Professor Moshe Halbertal speak to us, followed by some further discussion on the topic of universalistic versus particularistic conceptions of rights (which was, to some degree, the topic of his article on Rabbi Menachem Meiri (to which I will return later)).
Halbertal started off with the assertion that there are two types of rights: (1) a basic type (law of humanity) and (2) a "whole set of association of rights", that is to say, "associational" rights, like citizens or members.
He framed the discussion as a matter of three questions:
(1) What is the breadth and depth of human rights? (How many rights do we grant people qua humans?)
(2) What is the morally relevant way in which we carve membership?
(3) What do you do when there is a clash between associational rights and human rights?

Some random smattering of various tidbits (it's late and I'm tired):
- "It's not a zero sum game."
- "not necessarily a shared metaphysical sense, but a shared normativity."
- Meiri - whoever adheres to a normative system is considered עמיתך - "to do that in the thirteenth century is a very bold move."
- Meiri did not imagine a world in which there are law-abiding atheists (not even Spinoza could imagine it).
- בית הבחירה (The Choice House) is the largest Talmudic commentary - unfortunately why it was not copied so much
- although the humash starts out with אדם and talking in a universalistic language, it then goes into a "heavy, strong associational language" later on in the Humash
- אומות גדורות בדת - says in Talmud abiding by by normative system between Jews and uncivilized
- he said you can play a "war of verses" to justify any atrocity.
- Meiri wanted to include them in normative community - all those who are under a normative structure

In our discussion at the end, a big topic was in regards to helping others and how helpful or not it is to use different elements of discourse in relating to it. An interesting comment in the discussion part was that of Rachel Kahn-Troster, who said that "Using associative language versus universal language is more powerful" for helping out others. It seems that universal language can sound more abstract in motivating people to help others out while associative language in helping others can prove to be more helpful.

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